Robert Caro on How He Does It

The Book Review


Robert Carroll joins us now he is the Pulitzer Prize. Winning author of many books. New Book is called working researching interviewing and writing. He's also the author of the years of Lyndon Johnson four volumes of them thus far and the powerbroker Robert Moses and the fall of New York Bob. Thanks so much for being here. Pleasure to be here all right so everyone has been greatly anticipating a volume five of the years of Johnson. But instead you have written this other book working researching interviewing writing. Why did you decide to do this? Ever since the powerbroker I kept myself out of the book. I don't think the word I appears in there many times. If soon as the book came out people started asking me. What was it like ten of you Robert Moses and I realized that I should have put in something to tell people what that was like so for like forty five years. I've been hearing that question and people ask me what it's like to work in presidential libraries were. Can you find out from interviews? This isn't the adviced anybody but it's sort of. I said we'll I WANNA give people some glimpses into how I work so. I took time out to do this book now. I'm back doing the volume. I mean it's an interesting question about interviewing Robert Moses because you had read five sessions which women seven sessions with him. Which was very different from the Johnson. Biography where he was dead already for several years. Before you could get started and I'm curious you write about it a bit in working what the difference was like for you. Writing the book writing a biography of a person who was still alive versus writing a biography of someone who was already gone in one sense. It's great to write about someone who's still alive because you get to meet Moses. Didn't talk to me for the first couple of years of the book. Then we had seven interviews. Soon as I started asking questions. Pamela the interviews were over but they will long sessions and I really got to look at him with Johnson. You felt okay. I came along just too late. He had died just three years before was great about him was that he died so young he would have been only sixty seven when I started. He darted sixty four that everyone was still alive. He had I think twelve people in Johnson City High School. When he was there they were all there to be viewed. But you can't make up for not meeting and talking to the person writing about you just can't do feel that absence and working on the Johnson. Yes you do everything you can to overcome that you know you interview the people closest to him over and over and over again constantly asking them what was he like. If I was standing next to you what would I see him doing? So you try to get a feeling of him now. We have these telephone transcripts where you hear him talking hundreds and hundreds of hours you can listen to him talking and see how he deals with people and how he gets what he wants from people. That's always amazing to me. Has that changed the way that you've been doing your research having access to those types a change the writing of history in general like on the Gulf of Tonkin incident which has been sort of mystery. What really happened there. How many attacks were there? On our destroyers. You know that led Johnson to launch these launch bombing attacks on North Vietnam. Now you actually hear the communications between Robert McNamara. The Secretary of Defense Cincpac the admiral at Honolulu and the commander of the fleet. That's an in Viet Nam. You hear this and what was really going on in real time the other aspect of your interviewing that. I thought was so interesting that you write about in this new book working is the delicacy of interviews and especially when you get to touchy subjects. And they'll you didn't interview Johnson for the book did Interview Lady Bird and tell the story about how you and when you approached the subject of Johnson's longtime affair with Alice Marsh. Well when Johnson is in the Pacific during World War. Two year allowed easing Australia. You're allowed one telephone. Call the senator from Texas. Just Johnson has to decide whether to run again for the House of Representatives or to run for senator. I'm going through all the correspondents and suddenly in the middle of it. There is a telegram from someone sewing. Alice I've never heard of Alice. She appears in no book and it says Lyndon everyone else that happened to me in the White House. Everyone else thinks you should run for the Senate. I think you should run for the house. Please try to cool love Alice. I said WHO is Alice. Who was the person that he makes the only one telephone call? And who's giving political advice which he follows shortly after that? So that's you know. An example of going through the papers by luck her sister and best friend show up at the Johnson Library and ask to see me and I go down to see them and they say you know we wanna tell you about a woman named Alice Marsh. We don't want to portray to some Bimbo. She was really very important in Johnson's life. And they told me the whole story of this Lauren and significant relationship and his life. So how do you then? Ask Lady Bird. You know panel. That's the only interview I ever had in my life where I couldn't bring myself to look at the person I was interviewing. Alice was a small town girl. She turned herself into the brilliant Washington. Hostess Brilliant Brilliant Salons and she came from a little town called Morlin. Now no one would go to the mall. And unless they were looking for inflammation analysis a little town in the middle of nowhere and I never know I went up there and we learned about her. And how remarkable she was but all of a sudden we have a mutual friend. Who lived in Morlin? Who calls me in a panic and says the bird in Texas? Everybody Calls Lady Bird Bird. Bird and always. You've been in Marlin. So she knows you know about Al. Assad said well that had to be if it doesn't concern me but her secretary then shows up at my desk in the reading room says Mrs Johnson would like to see you out at the ranch this weekend. We had been meeting in her office so we sit down at the dining table. She's at the head of the table. I might her right. Hand my stenographer's notebook like like the one you use is is down on my right hand taking notes and without preamble. She starts to talk about Alice Quiz. How elegance she was how sophisticated she was how she taught. Linden things and everything that she taught him. He followed the rest of his life. You don't hear these lawn when she met him. He was this new congressman very awkward with Lorne Gang Leo Arms. She said turn them into an asset. Always wear shirts with French. Cuffs and very nice cufflinks. So when people's attention is cool to them it's called in in a in a good way. She told him. We're kind of Necktie to favor. Countess Myers Tie. But most of all at crucial elements in life. It was her advice that he followed an in a number of cases one in particular. It's not exaggerating. Very much to say she saved. His career is takes a moment to tell. But it's it's interesting his early careers financed by a very fierce huge Texas contractor. Herman Brown Brown and Root and Herman was prepared to keep financing his Roy and in return Johnson was getting huge contracts for Brown and root when all of a sudden they had a falling out Lyndon Johnson was getting them authorization to build a dam which they wanted but Linden wandered low. Rent Housing Project built in Boston in what was a very poor Mexican American neighborhood. The houses in that neighborhood were owned by Herman Brown. The tenants were paying rent to him. They were very profitable and he was enraged at Linden wanted to condemn them for his housing project and his chief lobbyist and his chief lawyer talked. Instead you know Herman was about to turn on Linden and when Herman turned on you he never turned back when Alice here is about this and invites them both down to Greatest Stadium Virginia. She sits down at her table. And says why don't you just compromise give Herman the damaging winds and the land and all of a sudden everything was okay. So Lady Bird starts talking not only about her elegance. She says the quotes are in the book. She was so sophisticated so beautiful. I remember her neck succession of wonderful beautiful dresses and me in well not so wonderful. And and then she said you know Lyndon Basically Linden always followed Alice's vice during that whole interview I have to say my head. Just stay down and I took notes. I couldn't look at her so that was done. The next week we went back to ordinary interview she just launched into it without you. Even though I you know I sometimes think I know something about politics. I'm really glad I don't have to write about. Women never understood why she did

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